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The Great Migration

Folks you are about to witness one of the greatest natural wonders  in the entire world play out right in front of your eyes in good old Nebraska.   It has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years, it is critical to the survival of many species, and it plays out in dramatic fashion on the stage set in central Nebraska.   The great spring migration.  Millions of ducks, geese, and cranes are beginning to pour into the Cornhusker state.  While we are at the very beginning of this several week-long event, the latter part of this month and throughout March should be a show worth watching!  Understand this recent snowfall will slow things down a bit for several days but….they’re coming!

There are two things that drive every wildlife species.  It will make them fight other critters tougher than they are.  It will make them look silly in front of their buddies.  It will also make them fly thousands of miles.  Food and love.  It is both of these elements that will be the reason for the incredible spectacle you will see over the next several weeks.  And a spectacle it will be.

One will only need to drive out to one of our Salt Valley lakes around Lincoln to witness the many canada geese, snow geese and ducks that will be moving back through the area on their quest back north to establish their nesting grounds once again in the arctic tundra.  It is a somewhat delicate ecosystem, comprising areas in Alaska and Canada, that supports an abundance of life and life cycles.  Although we generally do not hunt birds returning north to nest, the ongoing battle to control snow goose populations will find thousands of hunters in the field across the Midwest trying to outsmart these intelligent and tasty (goose jerky) critters.  This special spring season on snow geese is the result of an conservation action in a massive attempt to save the arctic tundra which is being destroyed by exploding snow goose numbers.  Hunters are starting to make an impact but vigilance over the next few years will be important.

We are also seeing an incredible number of bald eagles coming through the state, including the Lincoln area.  Being birds of prey, the migration is an important happening for them as well as it creates one of the grandest buffet lines in North American.  The majestic birds will be seen throughout the day loafing around near large ponds, reservoirs, rivers, etc. where migrating waterfowl are likely to be found.  It is incredible to witness the growing number of nesting eagles in Nebraska.  Our model of conservation is doing right!

The cranes will be another draw for thousands of bird watchers who strive for a glimpse at these somewhat prehistoric creatures of the plains.  Of the six subspecies of sandhill crane, three are migrators that come through Nebraska each spring including the greater, lesser and Canada (intermediate) sandhill crane.  I have been asked by folks from other states if I know what a sandhill crane sounds like.  I always reply no I do not know what a sandhill crane sounds like.  I know what 10,000 sound like!  That is what you will find if you take a short drive west on I-80 from around Doniphan through the North Platte/Sutherland stretches of the Platte River.  A migration of cranes that has been playing out for well over nine million years, long before there even was a Platte River.  They stop in Nebraska on this return flight to refuel their reserves.  The rich diets in many of our grain fields in central Nebraska offer their needed boost for their long journey to their nesting grounds in Minnesota, Canada and even across the Bering Strait into Siberia.     Here they will begin pairing up by participating in a courtship  “dance” ritual that viewers will find entertaining.  They will dance by jumping up and down, often while tossing a stick into the air (birds?).  Think of the Platte River as the largest singles bar on the planet.

Aside from these mega fauna, many other species of shore birds will be migrating through as well, usually coming through in April and May after the large rush.  March through May is truly an awesome time in our great state.  Nebraska is uniquely known throughout the world for the incredible viewing opportunities during this time.  Excellent locations for viewing include the Crane Trust near Wood River, Fort Kearny State Rec Area south of Kearney, Crane Meadows near Alda, and Rowe Sanctuary near Gibbon.  Spend the day or weekend in this region and you won’t be disappointed.  Every child should see this incredible event play out at least once in their life.  For many of us, we must pay witness annually as it is just that cool.  Nebraska is truly wild!  The gateway to the west and home to some of the wildest events nature has to offer.  Some might say Nebraska has gone to the birds!  I sure hope so…


Early arriving Canada geese take flight as they head north to the nesting grounds.
Ice greets Canada geese as they head back through Nebraska.

About jeff rawlinson

Jeff is the Education Manager in the Communications Division with Game and Parks where he has worked for the last 15 years. He oversees the Hunter Education, Boater Education, Hunter Outreach and Shooting Range Development for the Commission and is a devout hunter, angler, wildlife viewer, naturalist, father and husband. He holds a BS and MS from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He has been a Hunter Education Instructor for over 20 years, NRA firearms instructor and range officer, National Archery in the Schools Program Archery Instructor Specialist and member of the National NASP Board, sits on the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Hunter Recruitment and Retention Committee and Education Committee. Jeff is an avid handgun hunter, loves to chase turkeys in the spring, squirrel hunting enthusiast and philosopher of the outdoors. He is an avid shooter and loves to spend outdoor time with family and friends. He has a passion for exciting others about the outdoors. A history buff, Jeff is a strong supporter of our North American Model of Conservation and tries to spread the message of its importance and relevance every chance he gets.

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